Chapter Eleven
Alliance Politics and Atomic Collaboration, 1941-1943

Brian L. Villa

The English sculptor, Henry Moore, has given us what is probably the only masterpiece to have been inspired by the atomic bomb. It is located in Chicago where Stagg Stadium once stood, more precisely, on the spot where the first sustained chain reaction took place, December 2, 1942. The small mass of bronze is typically Moore, here highly polished, there penetrated by dark voids. As one draws nearer, attracted by the play of light and shade, the small form becomes clearer. It seems to be a mushroom about to break forth from the ground, rather trite one thinks, but on approaching it more closely, as one moves around it, the form assumes the shape not of a mushroom, but of a skull. It is only after this impression has sunken in that one notices the seemingly insignificant setting for the bronze, the pavement set with stones in concentric circles around it. Then and only then does one realize that in fascination with the sculpture, we have been drawn deeply into the object's symbolic killing zone.

Hopefully it is a work of art, which countless generations will come to admire, but even without knowing the outcome, the work stands as a very precise statement of man's early involvement with atomic energy. At the beginning few, if any perceived the frightening perspectives. What seemed to dominate the minds of statesmen and scientists was the irresistible fascination of a new age dawning, with all its inherent power. General Smuts best expressed it when he was told in 1943 that he was to meet the brilliant atomic physicist Niels Bohr. Smuts gushed, "This is tremendous as though one were meeting Shakespeare or Napoleon--someone who is changing the history of the world."1 The sense of overwhelming power was easily aroused in the minds of a generation which remembered the age of the horse and which had now been bedazzled by a seemingly endless string of marvels. Some doubted that the bomb would be revolutionary or even that it would work, but most did not. Fewer still questioned that the project would produce untold benefits to mankind. The British scientist, Marcus Oliphant, wrote to an American colleague in February 1945 apropos of the bomb project:

Although war has brought the opportunity to do these things, and although the immediate result will be incalculable destruction, we know that in the ultimate analysis this aspect will be overshadowed by the benefits wrought for mankind.2

This sense of the bomb's importance found expression in virtually every policy paper on the subject from 1941 onwards. The authors of the British Maud report of July 1941, noting that skepticism was no longer warranted asserted that a "super-bomb" was possible. They spoke of it as a "weapon of decisive possibilities" such as no nation could afford to be without.3 There was no less enthusiasm about the commercial power aspects. The appendix to their report stated that the use of nuclear energy "may affect the distribution of industry over the whole world."4 But it was clearly the bomb prospects which interested the Maud Committee. It was the same with American scientists and policy makers. Later that same summer the American scientist, Harold C. Urey concluded that "If the Germans get the bomb the war will be over in a few weeks."5 In October the American President and his Secretary of War discussed the "enormous


possibilities" and the need "to prevent it from being used to conquer the world".6 James B. Conant, Harvard's President on loan to the American government, noted in the spring of 1943; "The new results when they arrive will henceforth be no laboratory affair, their impact may well be world shattering."7

The enormous possibilities were also discussed in Canada at a very early date, most noticeably by the Canadian physicist, George Lawrence.8 As elsewhere, the first discussions made little effort to distinguish between the possible military and commercial applications. Indeed, the first impressions tended to be rather blurred. When representatives of the British atomic project visited the acting head of the National Research Council, Chalmers Jack Mckenzie, they seem to have made little effort to sort out the various components. Mackenzie, who was responsible for the Canadian government's scientific policy and was destined to become the key Canadian figure, merely noted in his diary: "It is very hush-hush project and they are quite enthusiastic about the practical result."9 Within a week, however, Mackenzie was helping to convince C.D. Howe, Minister of Munitions and Supply, of the need for Canada's involvement.10 Less than two weeks after the British visit, Mackenzie was in Washington agreeing with the American project Administrator, Vannevar Bush, that Canada ought to be involved.11 Within a year the word was out over most of Bay Street that uranium was being studied for the possible creation of the "greatest explosive ever developed."12 In a memorandum to C.D. Howe of April 1944 Mackenzie noted:

In my opinion Canada has a unique opportunity to become intimately involved in a project which is not only of the greatest immediate military importance but which may revolutionize the future world in the same degree as did the invention of the steam engine and the discovery of electricity. It is an opportunity Canada as a nation cannot afford to turn down.13

In forwarding this and related documents to A.D.P. Heeney, Clerk of the Privy Council, C.D. Howe referred to their subject as "perhaps the top secret of the war."14 The Cabinet War Committee minutes described the subject of the additional expenditures as a proposal for the "construction and operation in Canada of a pilot plant for the further development of a special process of the highest secrecy. The product of this process promised to be of the greatest importance to the war effort and its postwar significance was likely to be revolutionary."15 (Plutonium, it should be noted was the product of the process.) It does little good to try to read back into the record a sense of moral concern for that was still unformed and lay somewhat in the future. Atomic energy was approached by all the great nations involved not so much with trepidation as with eager anticipation. If fear there was it concerned the possibility that Germany might be successful first, but this sentiment seemed only to add a sense of excitement to the race.

The impression the documentation from all three capitals suggests is that the biggest poker game of the century was about to take place. Canada had long watched such great power games but largely from the sidelines. Playing the game was very heavy stuff indeed. As the Rowell-Sirois Commission on Federal Provincial Relations noted in 1940, specifically apropos of trade but obviously with wider application:

Canada's position is similar to that of a small man sitting in a big poker game. He must play for the full stakes, but with only a fraction of the capital resources of his two


substantial opponents: if he wins, his {profits in relation to his capital are very large, and if he loses he may be cleaned out.16

It is perhaps on this limited plane that an evaluation of Canada's early role in atomic collaboration should be attempted.

This essay will primarily attempt to determine what cards Canadian policy makers had to play. It will not attempt to describe, except for a brief period, how Canada played her cards nor what cards were held by her partners. Those questions too must be reexamined in light of the latest archival openings but one can begin the task by looking at Canada's experience.

The first and in some ways largest task is the correction of some misapprehensions concerning Canadian assets. These can be traced right back to the contemporary documents. According to the Cabinet War Committee minutes, C.D. Howe announced in January 1944 that, "Canada was the main source of world supply of this metal (uranium) and it was regarded as essential that its supply and production should be strictly under government control."17 Mackenzie King seems to have had the same notion for he noted in his diary of August 8, 1943 that "Canada (is) also a party to the development (Anglo-American atomic collaboration). Much of the U (uranium) and H.W. (heavy water) are in our country."18

If Canada had held the preponderance of uranium and heavy water stocks necessary for the atomic program that certainly would have constituted a very strong hand indeed. This presumption however raises some very difficult questions. If Canada had so strong a hand why did its officials have so much difficulty in getting supplies from the Americans for the British-Canadian project in Montreal? Why were Canadian scientists excluded from the American plutonium plants? Why did Canada not play a larger role in post-war efforts at atomic energy control? The conventional answer seems to be that the Canadians were outfoxed by their American friends who cornered the supply of Canadian materials, and thus took away the principal cards which Canada had to play.

This standard interpretation is reflected in most Canadian writing on the subject as well as the important British study. Thus C.P. Stacey writes in his brief and very fine account of atomic collaboration, "The Americans were in the driver's seat. Not only was their project now so far advanced that they could go it alone but they had contrived to corner the market on Canadian atomic raw materials."19 Margaret Gowing, the very gifted official British historian, has written, "The Americans had secured the entire output of the Canadian uranium mines and the Canadian heavy water plant, and if the British finally broke with the Americans on Tube Alloys they would be deprived of their only sources of uranium and any early possibility of heavy water supplies".20 Dr. Wilfrid Eggleston in his pioneering and richly detailed study, while avoiding comment on just how much uranium Canada had, leaves much the same impression. He has written: "The aggressive and relentless drive of General Groves and his American colleagues had resulted in a series of secret private contracts being reached between Eldorado... and the U. S. Army.... The Canadian government held all the cards of course, in the event of a showdown. As an autonomous power, it could step in at any time... and take over complete control of its uranium contracts with the United States."21

Where, then, were these assets in the period from December 1942 to August 1943 when the Americans virtually cut off the British and Canadian scientists from participation in the American atomic work? If the original assumptions about the extent of the assets are correct


it seems very hard not to conclude that the Canadians had been somewhat careless with their resources. Winston Churchill's celebrated remark that C.D. Howe had apparently sold the "British Empire down the river" seems to reflect just such a conclusion.22

Alongside the usual Yankee ruthlessness there would seem to be an implication of Canadian ineptitude if not naivete. Most authors attempt to rescue C.D. Howe from the imputation but somewhat halfheartedly. Eggleston writes of Howe, "He was up to his neck in gigantic enterprises already (before the atomic question arose)."23 James Eayrs in his important study has written that, "C.D. Howe had not sold the British Empire down the river in any treasonable sense. But he had been more than a trifle careless with its assets."24 The official British account is milder but in the same vein: "Howe ...was an individualist working in an administration which was at the best of times a very fine-drawn affair, and was consequently trying to do himself far more than anyone could...."25 C.P. Stacey writes in the same vein, "It seems likely that Howe himself late in 1942 had no technical understanding of what was going on and no real idea of how much material would be required for a serious atomic operation."

The newly opened American and British archives shed much light on how Americans acquired supplies and Canada's place within that picture. The most complicated part of the story concerns the world's largest producer of uranium, the Union Miniere du Haut Katanga. Briefly, this company was most anxious to unload much of its uranium which had been relatively worthless in the pre-war era and had been pressing the Americans to take as much of it as they could. (They had made similar approaches to the British earlier.) Already in April 1942 they were pressing the Americans to accept 1,000 short tons of very high grade uranium ore and 2,000 short tons of average grade ore, while suggesting that there were "thousands of tons" of ore available in the Congo.26 Not only were the accumulated stocks much greater than the Canadian but also Congo annual production was many times greater than the Canadian, anywhere from four to six times as great. In fact, Canada ranked third in world production after the Belgian Congo and the United States. The total production prior to December 1943 was from the Belgian Congo 6,500 tons of high grade ore; from Colorado, 2,000 tons of medium and low grade ore; and from Canada, 690 tons of medium and low grade ore.27 This ranking, derived from American sources, is corroborated by the British documents.28 In such circumstances Canadian uranium was critical to the United States only if expected use exceeded the other two sources of supply. Assuming the most wasteful possible use of uranium ore by the United States, that is maintaining all three routes to bomb development simultaneously for the duration of the war (a worst possible contingency since the Americans themselves planned to decide on narrowing the choices by 1944) the Americans had little to worry about. The worst contingency would produce by February 1945 a demand for 4,404 tons of ore, while by that date they would have available just from Belgian and American sources 4,518 tons in ore. An early decision on which route to follow could release an additional 1,000 or more tons of uranium in ore.29

This data makes clear that a complete cessation of uranium deliveries from Canada, even for the entire war period, would affect no more than 10-15 percent of the American supplies. The Americans might indeed be considered to be "in the driver's seat" but not necessarily because of the Canadian situation. The administrator of the Canadian project C.J. Mackenzie seems to have had a more accurate view of the situation when he wrote Hume Wrong of External Affairs in October 1945:

The American project, on the other hand, was not entirely dependent on Canadian ore


as they had stockpiled a great deal of Belgian Congo material, and while they valued our present and potential supplies greatly on account of obvious advantages, I think they might have carried out their immediate plans without our material.30

It should be added that the American government was aware that Canada had only limited leverage should it join Britain in protesting the new American policy restricting the interchange of scientific information. The US panel recommending that policy in December 1942 noted:

(The) British would certainly be displeased and' whether the resulting friction would produce serious repercussions in regard to the supply of materials from Canada or in other areas... is impossible to judge.30

While the reviewing committee was not certain of the situation if Canadian ore was stopped, the general tenor of the report was optimistic. The committee certainly did not hesitate, on account of the possible uncertainty as regards the Canadian situation, to recommend to the President the restrictive policies which were to cause Britain such anguish. As Robert Bothwell and William Kilbourne have noted Canadian uranium supplied constituted only "a limited ticket of admission" to high stakes diplomacy.31 In the ore situation there was no possibility of a Canadian Juggernaut.

Similar findings would appear indicated with respect to the production of heavy water, which had been placed along with the other "Canadian material" in most accounts.32 Britain in fact controlled the only significant supplies existing in 1942, the approximately 180 kg of heavy water taken out of France by two of Frederic Joliot-Curie's assistants. British officials had much emphasized the importance of this source in their discussions with the Americans, but this amount was barely sufficient to conduct the preliminary experiments.33

A significant proportion of future supply was Canadian, but in a sense that needs to be understood. In 1942 Canada did not possess any appreciable quantities of heavy water. The Americans, with some British scientific help, arranged for a Boston firm E.B. Badger and Sons to design and construct equipment according to American specifications to be installed at a plant in British Columbia. That location was chosen because it was a large-scale producer of electrolytic hydrogen, used in the process. The cost of the equipment, construction and first charge of platinum catalyst was to be borne entirely by the US and amounted to approximately $2.8 million and would entail an annual operating cost of approximately $700,000.34 Even during the period of apparent Anglo-American cooperation, the British government had evidenced no desire to share in the venture, nor had the Canadian. When the controversy broke out over the sharing of scientific information, construction had barely begun. The British representative urged the Canadian government to seize the plant, but apparently C.D. Howe never went beyond the exploratory stage.35 While the documents are silent on the reasoning it seems clear enough; there was no way to compel the American government to turn over the use of the patents, specifications and procedures. Under the circumstances it is misleading, though in some sense accurate, to refer to Heavy Water as Canadian material, for some of the decisive elements of control were lacking.

The supplies, at least those that might be considered purely Canadian, were therefore not as unique or as valuable as has sometimes been suggested. Even if carefully managed they could give the Canadian government little leverage. That observation does not, of course, resolve the question of how unfair American policy towards raw materials was, or was not.


That question needs to be looked at more closely. The imputation breaks down into three parts. 1) That the U.S. contracted for all Canadian uranium for the purpose of leaving Britain no option but to accept American terms, in effect a junior partnership. This charge is to some extent implied or stated in the accounts by Stacey and Gowing.36 2) That the Americans made their arrangements at Trail secretly without even consulting the Canadian government. It seems to be implied by Stacey but is most clearly stated by John Holmes and Eggleston.37 3) That the Americans secretly developed their own heavy water program, in completion with the British-Canadian effort, holding back heavy water for the Argonne Laboratory near Chicago. This charge also seems to be implied by Stacey, but is again most clearly stated by Eggleston.38

Detailed reasons for doubting the accuracy of the various imputations may be found in the archives recently opened. But in some ways the most important ground for skepticism arises from the work Robert Cuff and Jack Granatstein have done, particularly on the Hyde Park Declaration.39 Everything I have studied about Franklin D. Roosevelt confirms the acuity of their insight. Nothing pleased Roosevelt more than to have Mackenzie King come and ask for more consideration than Canada's strict entitlement. It gave Roosevelt great pleasure to wave his hand with noble insouciance and by a gesture accede to the request. What appealed to him in all this was the creation of lines of dependence, which might well be called feudal, in the strict sense, as described by Marc Bloch. We, of course tend to see in that relationship the notion of superior and subordinate, but as Roosevelt understood such ties, the dependence ran in both directions. Its great advantage was that the relationship tended to run itself, requiring no great effort or close supervision. And of course, having banked good will, he knew he could eventually ask Canadians for a favour in return and know that it could not easily be refused. An apparent magnanimity was the quintessence of his style.40

Since this was his style and since he closely controlled all aspects of atomic policy it seems rather strange to see the Americans apparently stealing from the Canadians, rather rudely, what they might have obtained by more straightforward means. If one stops and considers that the Americans had Belgian uranium stocks, all the money for plant construction and some of the best scientific advice which European wars could cast on American shores, it would appear that the Americans had all the cards they needed without recourse to desperate measures. The charges need therefore to be examined more closely, particularly as they seriously obscure the real lines of policy.

The charge that the Americans secretly contracted for all Canadian ore so as to leave no alternatives to Britain and Canada is the most serious. But it entirely ignores the zeal on the Canadian side to sell as much uranium as possible. In the immediate pre-war period Eldorado Mines, the principal Canadian uranium product, had been in a weak position, unable to compete with the Belgian concern either in price or quantity. Eldorado owed nearly $700,000 in 1939 and had virtually shut down. Not surprisingly it welcomed orders. As Eldorado's President wrote C.D. Howe, "I was of the opinion that it was good- policy to accept all contracts that came our way for the refining of ore...."42 If anything there was even more enthusiasm at the sales agent's office in New York. Some aspects of this story are rather sad but it would appear that Eldorado's accounting to C.D. Howe of contracts presumably made with the US, which is the source for most of the historical accounts, reports one more contract than existed with the US. It would appear that Boris Pregel, Eldorado's agent, had apparently purchased ore for his own account for resale to the Americans when they could be persuaded to take it, possibly at substantially higher prices.43 The point is that not all actions ascribed to the American government were in fact taken by them.


Then, too, the Americans had every reason to believe that their contracts with Eldorado were fully approved by the Canadian government. In June 1942 C.D. Howe had proposed to the Americans that Canada quietly purchase Eldorado. Vannevar Bush had encouraged the Canadians and so had Franklion D. Roosevelt. In July the administrator of Canada's atomic project, C A Mackenzie, had assured Bush that "Mr. Howe had started informal discussions with the parties interested and some days ago told me that everything was going nicely and pointed to an early and satisfactory conclusion of the deal."44 Apparently neither Howe nor Mackenzie reported to the Americans that the secret purchase had not materialized. Even in October 1942 Howe was still optimistically telling the British that it would all be completed in short order. Even Robert Bothwell and William Kilbourne in their very fine biography of C.D. Howe state that "within weeks, Howe had his mine."45 In fact, by 1944 the government had to abandon the indirect approach and proceed with expropriation of the shares. In late 1942 and early 1943 the Americans were certainly entitled to believe that their contractual arrangements met Canadian approval, and in effect were made with Howe's agent.

Similarly the charge that the Americans kept secret their deal with Consolidated Mining and Smelting for the heavy water plant until after it was consummated seems unfounded. John Holmes has written recently, quite harshly, of the alleged incident, suggesting that the United States "needed some lessons on Canadian sovereignty." But Bush's report to his counterpart, Sir John Anderson, does not justify such an interpretation. Bush wrote: office is just at the present time at the point of closing a contract with a Canadian company. Accordingly I have sent to Ottawa to confer with Mr. Mackenzie... (my representative).... I have taken this step in order that our arrangements with the Canadian company may be fully known and commented upon by the Canadians before the arrangements are closed.46

Bush's representative in fact saw Mackenzie for two sessions in which apparently tentative approval was given to the arrangements, subject to Howe's review.47 Approximately two weeks later, Mackenzie wrote Bush to say that C.D. Howe "confirmed the opinions I expressed to you."48 All this is admittedly from the American archives, but it does not appear differently in the Canadian. For example, one contemporary letter in Munitions and Supply files addressed to the President of Consolidated notes, "We understand that you are dealing directly with your friends (the US Government). This is wholly satisfactory."49

As for the charges regarding "secret" American development of Heavy Water plants in the US, the Canadian were not only informed but the first to be so informed, even before the British.50 Moreover, in Dean Mackenzie's official files there is a letter from Conant to Mackenzie of March 13, 1943, in which one sentence was underlined apparently by Mackenzie, the one in which the American stressed, "You understand that the point at issue is the size of our program for the manufacture of heavy water."51

The worst of the charges seem, therefore, to have been somewhat unfounded. They may be a reading back into an earlier period unhappiness with later American policy, or they may simply reflect more general ingrained suspicion. Be that as it may, the charges seriously confuse and obscure the essential thrust of American and British policy, more particularly the broad political reasons why Canadian involvement in atomic affairs was sought. It was on this larger stage that Canada really had cards to play, much more important than the limited stocks


of uranium or heavy water located in Canada. This is a complicated story, one which certainly cannot be told here in all its complexity. But to anticipate later conclusions, one could suggest that Canadian leaders, particularly C.J. Mackenzie, played the cards rather well during the war, but that one cannot be at all certain that others played these cards as well in the immediate postwar period. Only the outlines of the first proposition can be sketched in this essay.

One has to begin with an understanding of the way the British-American atomic relationship developed. The important part of the story begins, as Margaret Gowing has indicated, with the ardour of American advances to Britain in the fall of 1941 for a joint, integrated atomic project, at a time when Britain was felt to be in the lead. The evidence of American eagerness is rather more striking than even Professor Gowing indicates. The American scientist who was the bearer of a "Private", "Dear Winston" letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt offered on behalf of the American government to foot the bill for research and development, a princely offer indeed.52 As Margaret Gowing has noted, the American envoy was treated with marked condescension and was subjected to homilies on the superiority of British ways. This and other American overtures were, as she says, generally answered only tardily and in a rather superior manner.53 However it also emerges from a comparison of the files of Roosevelt and Churchill that one particular letter was never answered. Contrary to Professor Gowing's belief, the "Private" "Dear Winston" letter never received direct reply.54 The rebuff to Roosevelt was therefore even more complete than was reported.

On the reasons for that rebuff Professor Gowing is brutally candid. She leaves it unmistakably clear that the principal reason for the rejection was a disinclination to share so potent a weapon with the Americans.55 It is not evident, however, from her account that even in April 1943 at least one of Churchill's principal advisers believed Britain could still beat the US in producing a bomb if Britain made the effort alone. Nor is it evident from her account that the Americans were correctly guessing the reason for the aloofness of the British responses. By peradventure, the Americans had received a copy of a draft of the Maud report giving the reasons for British hesitation, the possibility that control over the weapon might be maintained if the Americans were kept out of the development.56

All of this meant that by April 1942, much earlier than has been supposed, the Americans concluded that their offer had been rejected and were fully prepared to go ahead alone.57 When the British offer to collaborate did come in August 1942, the door had long been shut. Nor was it really an offer to undertake a joint project as one might gather from the British account. It is true enough that Anderson's minute to Churchill, reprinted by Gowing, suggested a fully joint project but what Anderson proposed to the Americans on August 5 had a very different ring.58 It seemed to signal a collapse of the British effort while demanding a partner's full share in the control of the American project. Of the original American offer it seemed to preserve very little except by implication, the idea that the American government would foot the bill. All of this is relevant because it shows what an impossibly difficult task the Canadians assumed when they attempted to compose Anglo-American differences over atomic collaboration.

Indeed, there was little disposition among the Americans to go very far down the road to compromise on atomic collaboration. Remembering their earlier rebuff, they were now prepared to administer the same policy to Britain. Conant best expressed the mood when he wrote in 1943, "1 question very much whether if at some stage we had said we were going to abandon all scientific activity the British would still have been willing to pass information to


us."59 The briefing Vice-President Wallace received on the controversy was also indicative. He noted in his diary that the "British are trying to play their customary role of getting more than they are entitled to."60

Thereafter American policy was directed towards either going alone without Britain so as to achieve a unilateral deterrent, or at most sharing with Britain to the extent that Britain could actually help and only to the extent that Britain could use immediately the exchanged information. Since the British were fast losing their hope of producing a bomb during the war, Bush and Conant could see no valid reason for giving Britain any information, except the moral obligation to make some return for whatever help Britain could really offer. Bush saw no way of doing their other than having British scientists surrender all the knowledge or assistance they could provide and subsequently have it evaluated by the American team. In other words, Britain would have to depend on American good will for a fair return. This course was unacceptable to British policy makers, in part because they knew what a nebulous concept fairness could be having induced the Free French to surrender their scientific assets to Britain on just such terms. The American position was also unacceptable one suspects because Sir John Anderson's advisers understood that what they might have to offer was now, in the summer of 1943, not very much. The corresponding return from the Americans was not likely to be sufficient to give Britain the bomb in the post-war era, now an absolute priority for Churchill.61

There was much more behind the rupture. It must be noted that when Bush was seeking advice on sharing information with Britain he was primarily consulting a panel consisting of Vice-President Wallace, Secretary Stimson and General Marshall, as well as Harry Hopkins. These figures were the chief advocates of a cross-channel operation for 1943, which they considered to be the top priority of the war. Churchill's somewhat evasive, somewhat contrary position had brought the Americans to the point of desperation. None of those whom Bush consulted felt particularly disposed to be generous to Britain until there was some agreement on the large question of strategy for the European war. After the most complicated allied negotiations of the war, the issues in dispute were settled on the basis of "quid pro quo" diplomacy. For Roosevelt's quid, a junior partnership for Britain and Canada in the atomic project, Churchill delivered a quo, which included agreement to the revised American timing for Normandy and a partial surrender of Britain's commercial rights in any atomic energy exploitation resulting from joint work.62 In effect, the bargain gave Britain and Canada the assurance of some role in whatever efforts were made after the war to control atomic energy through membership on the Combined Policy Committee. That membership also gave Britain the outside chance of learning enough of the American project to be able to develop a British bomb in the early post-war era.

Since the bargain struck affected many of the crucial issues of the war and post-war era, it seems clear that Canada's role in the resolution of the controversy must have been relatively secondary. The present literature seems, however, to suggest that there was hardly any Canadian role, certainly none in the early period from 1942 to 1943. Most authors represent Canadian officials as stumbling in and making matters worse. Even Margaret Gowing speaks of Canada as having become involved only by accident of war.63 Wilfred Eggleston has concluded that "For complex reasons; in which there is no national villain, the uranium research program led for a time to deep seated and acrimonious differences, chiefly affecting the United States and Britain with Canada as a victim to some extent on the side lines."64 James Eayrs has spoken of the height of the crisis in May 1943 "as a Canadian foreign minister's nightmare-one wherein hinges stick, lynchpins snap and bridges fall into the sea." And elsewhere he notes, "For a time


Canada created more Anglo-American misunderstandings than she was able to conciliate."65

The documentation now available however, makes it clear that Canada's involvement was not entirely accidental. It appears that from the very start the United States and Britain hoped to involve Canada in the atomic program, though for somewhat different reasons.

Interest in involving Canada surfaced in American policy papers as early as October 1941, when the Americans were seeking a joint project with Britain and were offering to foot the bill. In that context, the thought was that the entire project should be undertaken in Canada. Bush's memorandum of his October meeting with the President is brief but precise: "We agreed, apparently completely, that it would be best if the job were done jointly in Canada."66 Unfortunately, the Americans decided to open this question by approaching Britain first. As we have seen, Britain rebuffed the overture and Canada missed the opportunity, if we can call it that, of having the multi-billion dollar project centered in Canada and being intimately involved from the start.

The rationale for American interest in Canada, however, is worth examining. The obvious consideration was the fact that the United States was still avowedly a neutral, and large scale military cooperation with a belligerent could best be undertaken in Canada where the spheres of American self-defence and Empire defence overlapped. When the US entered the war this consideration naturally lost much of its importance. But American policy had also been based on a second consideration which remained: concern with the problem of controlling atomic energy after the war. Again the Bush memorandum of his October conversation with the President was somewhat laconic but in the same conversation concerning Canada "we disused at some length after-war control, together with sources of raw material."67 In that context it was impossible to ignore Canada. There undoubtedly was also present a third consideration, the further thought that Canada's position on matters of international control would be close to the American.

There were thus enough considerations for Americans to continue desiring Canadian participation after Pearl Harbour. Not long after the Japanese attack a conference to review the atomic program was convened in Washington and was attended by the Vice-President, the Secretary of War and Vannevar Bush. The latter recorded:

We discussed the international situation and I presented the present status as I understand it. It is understood by all present that this matter of relationships with Britain is in the hands of the President himself.... Some discussion was, however, held on the desirability of a joint plant in Canada."68

Britain's rejection of the American offer, which Bush registered in April 1942, changed most elements in the equation. The Americans now planned their crash program for development entirely within the United States. Curiously enough, only one component was left to be built outside of the United States, the heavy water plant at Trail, British Columbia.

Closing the door to Britain did not necessarily mean closing the door to Canada. In June 1942 Dean Mackenzie, much intrigued by news of the new American program travelled down to Washington and laid before the Americans the Canadian desire to participate and to control uranium supplies. In that context Bush's mind went back to the problem of post-war control. Mackenzie's diary makes clear both Bush's enthusiasm and his motivation:


Bush thinks we should proceed with the acquisitioning of the property (Eldorado).... He thinks that there should be an international arrangement as between the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada for post war control.69

That same day Bush wrote the President, respectfully noting that he had always steered clear of the question of post-war relations which the President wished to control personally, adding,

On one point, however, I would like to be in a position to give a reply. The Canadians are considering quietly purchasing the principal ore source in Canada so that it will be under their government control.... I am inclined to encourage them to go ahead, with the thought that international relationships will be more readily handled if control on the matter is in government hands.70

The President agreed entirely, and Bush promptly confirmed his earlier surmise to Mackenzie. Noting that the contemplated purchase is "of course, entirely a Canadian matter," Bush reported that the President was all for encouraging the Canadians.71

Though Bush no longer had any immediate place for Britain in his plans and was evading most of Sir John Anderson's proposals, he did encourage that portion which concerned Canada. Bush wrote Anderson on September 1 to say that the establishment of a joint British-Canadian team would be welcomed and "may result in adequate interchange.... You know undoubtedly that we would be quite content if your arrangements result in setting up in Canada a strong group."72 Bush also notified Mackenzie of American support for Canadian participation and explained his reasons:

I was particularly happy to learn, therefore, that the Canadian organization has now become definite, for I feel that this will be of distinct aid in proceeding whit the discussion of the broader phases of the (international) relationships.73

At the time this was written there was a growing concern with the prospective post-war dangers, as was reflected in the meetings the President had with the Secretary of War. After one such meeting in October, Stimson noted in his diary, "He and I discussed some of the enormous possibilities and the ways of meeting the ticklish situation after the war with a view to prevent it (the bomb) being used to conquer the world."74

In that context American support of Canada's involvement continued despite the growing Anglo-American dispute. When Mackenzie requested the entire first year's product of the American sponsored heavy water plant at Trail, Bush managed to persuade a rather shocked policy committee that such a course was sensible. The measure of Bush's desire for Canadian participation can be found in the fact that he did not raise the question of financial compensation or the $2.8 million American investment for that first year's production.75 When it came time for Bush to bluntly tell Sir John Anderson what he had been suggesting since April that the US was going ahead on its own and would not share knowledge with Britain in areas she was not working, Conant made a point of calling Mackenzie first to warn him of the impending announcements. Indeed, this was one of the few instances in the war when Canada was the first to be informed of a momentous crisis in Anglo-American relations.76

Bush, in fact, seems to have done everything possible to leave a mediating role to Canada. Though he often threatened the British with refusing to help their atomic effort in


Montreal if they did not accept American terms, he seems not to have made such a threat to the Canadians. Since Montreal was to be a joint British-Canadian project this left Mackenzie with the task of arranging a compromise. It surely was with that thought in mind that Bush assured Mackenzie after the Anglo-American clash that every effort would be made to get the materials needed for Montreal.77 When Sir John Anderson countermanded Mackenzie's permission for continued interchange with the Americans by scientists visiting the US from Montreal, Conant sought to protect Canadian-American good will. Conant wrote General Groves that the record ought to show clearly that the objections came "from London" not Ottawa.78 Behind the nuances of American policy there undoubtedly was the expectation that diplomatic support would be forthcoming from Canada. Thus in April, bush reported to Hopkins:

Dean Mackenzie is on his way to England to discuss this matter (the Anglo-American dispute). I rather think that he agrees entirely that our decision is reasonable and I believe that he will urge the British to withdraw their objections.79

The Americans associated with the Manhattan project seemed never to have lost this conviction. Towards the end of the war, Stimson remarked to the President that he felt "in event of any serious difficulty the Canadians will side with the U.S."80

Britain's desire for Canadian involvement also began earlier than has been supposed. It grew out of the immense war strain Britain was experiencing. In that context the large atomic program seemed too much to support and much thought was given to getting the least important parts out of the country. Among the latter was felt to be the partly French, heavy water team of Professor Hans Halban. Security reasons also played their part, but more important was the conviction that his most useful work had already been completed as far as the bomb was concerned. In the future his team would most probably act only as a drain on scarce resources. At first it was suggested that Halban should go to the United States, but there was some concern that this might overload the Americans if circumstances made it necessary to ask them to build the British diffusion isotope separation plant. Consideration was then given to getting both Canada and the United States to service the British project. It would be impossible to describe here all the twists and turns the question took. But in general, when the past political unreliability of the Americans was recalled, it was considered undesirable to share the bomb with them while Canada become much more attractive as a place where materials could be had. Canada could also serve as a base from which American resources could be tapped. Thus in August 1941 the scientific advisory panel spoke of the possibility of plants being built in Canada with "the necessary components being manufacture in the United States."81

Then when there were the first hints that the Americans were about to launch a major atomic program of their own, which might consume vast amounts of resources, Britain's interest in Canada and Canadian uranium grew. In June 1942 approaches were made to Mackenzie King, C.D. Howe and C.J. Mackenzie. The latter's diary notes: "Mr. Howe has agreed to control raw materials and some mutual arrangements will be made for the project as between the three countries."82

As British leaders became aware of the magnitude of the American project and lost all hope of retaining an atomic monopoly, interest in Canada grew, as a means of redressing the balance. Like the Americans, policy makers in London were also increasingly worried about the post-war control prospects. From either perspective it seemed desirable to bring Canada to the table. Thus, in October 1942, when Howe visited London to arrange for the transfer of Halban's


team to Canada he was also presented proposals for tri-national ownership of Eldorado and similar patent control. Howe was not particularly enthusiastic. He seems to have doubted that the Americans would share patent rights equally with Britain and Canada when the financial burden fell largely on the US. For his part he did not particularly like the idea of other nations sharing in the ownership of Eldorado. Thus Howe, a rather rugged nationalist, threw cold water on both ideas. Then and thereafter Howe seems to have been interested primarily in defending Canadian sovereignty and in getting the best price for Canadian resources, much to the disappointment of those making diplomatic policy.83

Still another major reason for Britain's interest was some appreciation of the closeness of the Canadian-American relationship, and the possibility that Americans would be more receptive in some cases if things were said by Canadians. Perhaps the classic example was the British High Commissioner's attempt to have Mackenzie protest the American policy of restricted interchange. A very tough letter to Bush had been drafted by Akers, a key British administrative officer, which he asked Mackenzie to sign. What was most revealing about the episode was that the draft merely repeated "arguments Akers had already presented... time and time again," as Mackenzie noted, Certain that the draft would be recognized as Akers', Mackenzie refused to sign.84 The desire to prod Canada into defence of British interests and the belief that this could be done successfully must also have been behind Churchill's celebrated taunt that C.D. Howe had "sold the British Empire down the river."85

The High Commissioner was successful, however, in getting Mackenzie to visit Washington and act as mediator, bridge, lynch pin or whatever such unhappy souls are called. Mackenzie did this despite his personal doubts about the wisdom of British efforts to be. in on all aspects of the American project, even where Britain could make no significant contributions. Moreover, he was inclined to believe the British were exaggerating their possible contributions. But he would try to help and left it that if he found the circumstances opportune he would call the High Commissioner to joint him in Washington where they might also coordinate with the British Ambassador, Lord Halifax, for a concerted approach to the American policy makers. Howe himself volunteered to visit Hopkins and the army people if Mackenzie found the situation at all favourable.86

Looking back over Mackenzie's trip one might be inclined to doubt the ardour with which he upheld the British case. But Mackenzie did not always buckle before American policy. He had not hesitated, for instance to ask and then insist that the first year's product from Trail go entirely to Montreal. He had upheld the British ban on information going from Montreal to the Americans despite his disagreement.87 But now in Washington he just could not see the merit in the British case. When Bush told Mackenzie that "if any time I thought there was anything really unfair, they would go as far as they could to rectify it," the Canadian hesitated to expend his good will in backing the British case. He returned to Ottawa without calling down either Howe or the High Commissioner.

In Ottawa, Howe and Mackenzie agreed that the support given to Britain would have to be in a low key. They noted that the Montreal project was a "relatively small one cast against the entire U.S. Canadian contacts" and did "not warrant deep involvement in any unpleasant controversy.88 This position came, no doubt, rather easily to Howe who seems not to have been terribly interested in either lynch pins or bridges.

Nevertheless, Mackenzie continued to try to help the British. In March 1943 he


politely warned Conant that the whole Anglo-American dispute was getting rather tiresome from a Canadian perspective. As he expressed it,

I have been hoping every day that the United Kingdom-United States conversations would clarify so that we could get on with the work, and I still have hopes that the situation which is very unsatisfactory to me will be remedied.89

More importantly, whenever he saw Canadian and British interests coincide Mackenzie spared no effort. Thus when the British felt they were being coerced into accepting American terms by the American "strangle hold" on materials Mackenzie made a determined and generally successful effort to release materials, including making another trip to the US where he took a much tougher stance towards the Americans. The briefing paper prepared for Mackenzie's trip suggested that he stress the relative insignificance of the supplies requested as compared with what the Americans were using. The memorandum is interesting also because it indicates that some of the "talking points" were not being committed to paper because they "are so clear to you."90

The meeting between Mackenzie and Groves took place on July 6. C.P. Stacey has noted that Mackenzie "assured Groves ... that there was no intention of interfering with the contracts (for heavy water and uranium)."91 But it would appear that Mackenzie had resolved to indicate to the American General the possibility of agonizing reappraisals in Ottawa. Mackenzie's diary entry suggests the delicacy of the approach:

I told him (Groves that) I realized the firm legal contract with Eldorado but that he also must realize such contracts with private firms in Canada could be easily broken, although he also knew that we would never dream of interfering with such a contract.92

However amicable the discussion was, General Groves could not have missed the point. When the reassurances brought back by Mackenzie proved insufficient to calm the High Commissioner, Howe took the next step towards the threatened action. He dispatched a letter on July 28 announcing that the Canadian government was assuming all responsibility for the allocation and distribution of uranium, irrespective of the contracts. "This will advise you," Howe wrote the President of Eldorado, "that the Government of Canada is taking delivery of all uranium ore produced in this country.... From this date your company is instructed to make deliveries solely on order from Dean C.J. Mackenzie."93 A different but similar initiative was taken by Howe that same day. Having recently learned from General Groves that the US army had engaged firms to survey world uranium supplies, including Canadian, Howe wrote the Minister of Mines to insure that the area in the vicinity of Eldorado was withdrawn from prospecting and exploration and that no further leases were granted.94 These Canadian initiatives occurred just as the British and Americans were entering the decisive stage of their negotiations and could not help but impress on Bush and Groves the need to compromise.

If Mackenzie and Howe thus gave some substantial support to the British position they also made no less of an effort for the Americans. In April 1943 Conant invited Canadian mediation by suggesting that if Canada took a more active part a satisfactory agreement could be worked out.95 Mackenzie, it seems, gave the Americans assurance that he would do his best in England where he would see Sir John Anderson. It was at this time that Bush wrote Hopkins that very optimistic letter already quoted.96 In fact, Howe and Mackenzie had agreed on May I that Anderson should be told that in the absence of an agreement with the Americans "we


would not be prepared to carry on with the (Montreal) project here."97

Not surprisingly, Mackenzie's session with the Lord President on May 11 was stormy indeed. Anderson, very much the imperturbable British public servant appeared not to be impressed. Mackenzie noted that "He would not believe me when I assured him the U.S. were going very fast and we were in danger of being left out in the cold." Anderson had known as much for months.98 In the course of the discussions Mackenzie delivered his warning that Howe would "certainly not support a team to compete with the U.S. in this area."99 The cost to Canada of this mediation was significant for the meeting left much ill feeling in London. But British files show that it undoubtedly had the desired effect. Before Mackenzie arrived, Anderson had optimistically minuted to the Prime Minister that the meeting should" give us an excellent opportunity of clearing up the Canadian end of the business."100 After Mackenzie's talk Anderson realized that there were certain dimensions which could not be ignored. In a memorandum to Churchill, which reflected the consequences of the Hyde Park Declaration, Anderson noted: In view of the dependence of Canadian war production on American materials etc,--it would clearly be impossible for the Canadians to go back on these (uranium) arrangements.101 Anderson now recognized that a greater effort to meet the American terms had to be made. When, two months later, Howe and Mackenzie made threatening gestures towards the American contracts, the British were reassured that the Canadians had gone as far as they could and then some. Ten days later, as the Anglo-American accord was being hammered out, Sir John Anderson announced that Canada should be included in the Combined Policy Committee which would have broad powers over the whole atomic field into the post-war era. C.D. Howe, whom Churchill had apparently accused of "selling the British Empire down the river" less than two months earlier, was Churchill's choice to represent Canada.102

Howe's nomination indicated that bridges had been built after all. The Americans, who had from late 1941 consistently urged a greater degree of Canadian involvement, were thoroughly pleased. Though Canada was not a signatory member of the Combined Policy Committee, in practice it was fully equal. The north Atlantic triangle had reached its loftiest embodiment of the whole war in the opinion of many. This diplomatic achievement was all the more striking if one recalls the rejection of Canadian efforts to participate in summits held on her territory or the rebuff experienced in seeking membership on the Combined Chiefs of Staff. If one bears in mind that, contrary to common belief Canada had only limited uranium assets, certainly nothing like a monopoly of uranium materials, the result seems all the more notable.

Not the least remarkable aspect of this story was the fact that Canada's "diplomacy" was conducted by non-diplomats, principally by Dean Mackenzie. But it is very difficult for this observer to fault his performance. He worked hard and persistently to instill in his American and British counterparts a sense of fairness and the urgency of getting down to work. Since scientist administrators like Vannevar Bush were also influencing much of American policy, Mackenzie was particularly effective. Indeed, at the height of the Anglo-American controversy, Conant wrote Bush to say that in his opinion,

...this whole controversy might never had (sic) arose if negotiations had been in the hands of the British scientists comparable to yourself and if those British scientists had had the same voice in determining policy in Great Britain as you have had here in the United States.103

It would be misleading to suggest that Canadian mediation had alone succeeded in


bringing her two partners together. The sobering effect of the war, the toning down of British imperial attitudes, the growing realism which Professor Gowing has described were all essential to the process. So also was the Anglo-American agreement on Normandy. But Canada's skillful diplomacy under impossible conditions had contributed to the result. When one considers how suspicion laden was the atmosphere, which affected even Mackenzie and Howe, the result was little less than remarkable. Evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of playing for high stakes would come later.


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Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation